Pet Owners

A story of an unusual patient with what is actually a very common problem!

This month we saw a cute little patient, an axolotl (Mexican salamander) named Axolotl! To see pictures of other axolotls and learn more about them, see this Wikipedia entry:

Unlike other amphibians, the axolotl starts out like a tadpole, and never trade their gills for lungs; instead they live their entire lives in the water.

Axolotls have a bad habit of eating small rocks and other material in their enclosure. In fact, this is the number one health problem of axolotls in general (in both pet and laboratory settings), as they have very few illnesses if they are fed and cared for correctly.  For this reason, it’s recommended to house them in a plain aquarium, or with objects too big to get into their mouths.

This axolotl decided to eat a fairly large number of rocks of all sizes.  His owner quickly removed the gravel, and he proceeding to “eliminate” most of them…except for 6 really large rocks far too big to come out that way.  They were also too big and irregular to simply pull out of his stomach with an endoscope.

So how does one anesthetize an aquatic axolotl?

Some interesting current publications show that the best way to keep them asleep for surgery is to bathe their skin and gills with an anesthetic water bath.

Hopefully the sutures will stay secure, and he will make a full recovery-and NO more rocks!

The axolotl was sent home the next day, and we hear he is already eating small meals. 
















Baby Wild Animals-For Sale???


We were stunned, as some of you may have been, about the news story of the women taking baby raccoons from the wild and trying to sell them on Craig’s List as pets.

This is not a good idea for lots of reasons.

Firstly, all Indiana wildlife is protected, and belongs to the people of Indiana. It’s not legal to take any wild animal, bird or reptile from the wild. It should be kept in mind that ALL birds, like songbird and hawks and owls are actually protected by the federal government as well as the State of Indiana (there are a few exceptions of invasive animals that are not native to the US, for example pigeons and starlings).

Secondly, very few wild animals actually make good pets. Most are adorable and cute and babies, but are challenging, and even potentially dangerous as they mature. Most wild mammals cannot be examined by veterinary staff without sedation, and the risk of bites is particularly high. Some have complicated diets and other needs and actually don’t do well in captivity.

Thirdly, animals taken from the wild may have parasites and other diseases that could be dangerous to people

And finally, some of our native wildlife is actually at risk, in particular some species of turtles and other reptiles.

We have so many fabulous domesticated exotic pets that are wonderful pets.   And, our rescues have many wonderful and beautiful pets who would love a permanent home.

Questions on wildlife (or other unusual exotic animals) as pets? Call us, or better yet, schedule your free “pre-purchase” exam, and we will share what we’ve learned over nearly 30 years of exotic pet practice.

How risky is anesthesia for exotic pets?


This is a subject that’s tough to write about, but from time to time it deserves some attention, and that is risk of anesthetic death in our exotic patients. Anesthesia for humans, traditional pets and exotic pets has come a long way in the last 20 years. There have been huge advancements in exotic pet anesthesia even in the last 5 years, with safer drugs, and better monitoring and support techniques.

Even so, every anesthetic event invites risk for injury or even death. In all cases, the risk of anesthesia must be weighed against the disadvantages of not performing a needed procedure.

An example is anesthesia for spaying our pet rabbits. Risk of uterine cancer from not spaying rabbits is high, in some studies and rabbit breeds as much as 70 %. The risks of not repairing certain types of fractures is a lifetime of disability and potential discomfort.

But what is the actual calculated anesthetic risk? This is hard to know, as things that impact anesthetic risk include the condition of the patient, drugs selected, skills of the anesthetic monitoring team experience of the surgeon and ability to complete the procedure safely and as quickly as possible.

One 2006 study in the UK compared general anesthetic risk for dogs, cats and some exotic species, including rabbits and some birds. The entire document is over 250 pages, so we will summarize here:  the overall anesthetic death rate in this study for rabbits (healthy and well) was 1.39%, meaning out of 100 procedures, less than 2 rabbits died during or within 48 hours of anesthesia.  It should be noted that when death rates were examined for healthy rabbits alone, the death rate was less than 1%. The rate for guinea pigs was a bit higher than for rabbits, at 3.8%, and ferrets lower at 0.33%.  More data for exotic pets is included here:

Anesthetic death rates calculated within 48 hours of anesthesia. Brodbelt D. The confidential enquiry into perioperative small animal fatalities. Thesis. Royal Veterinary College of London, 2006.

While these rates are relatively low, they are even lower in dogs and cats, and much lower in humans, meaning exotic medicine has much opportunity for improvement. In our 30 years of practice we’ve seen some amazing new techniques and accomplished surgeries we previously would not have thought possible. We look forward to many more great advancements in the years to come.

So How Long Can Cockatiels Live?


Last week one of our favorite friends and clients let us know they lost their wonderful pet cockatiel Popcorn last November. The family moved out of state years ago, but made sure to let us know about Popcorn’s passing. Popcorn was born in 1989, which would make him 29 years old!

His owner Sharon says he survived two Yorkshire terriers, two ferrets, a Dalmatian and a Golden retriever. Congratulations, Popcorn! Your family will miss you.

We generally see cockatiels living into their teens, but older than that is quite unusual!

Popcorn would not be the oldest cockatiel on record, however. The Guinness book of World Records lists “Sunshine”, who was reported to be 32 years old in 2016:

A CT scan for a snake?


This patient presented for chronic respiratory disease. When diagnostic testing and antibiotics didn't work, additional testing was needed to help find the cause.  Here is our patient under anesthesia, positioned with towels and undergoing a CT scan. The results showed a few interesting things that will help us choose the next step to help her.  



The weather is great! How about exotic pets outdoors?

There has been a lot of recent research on the benefits of UV light for a number of exotic species, in particular reptiles, parrots, rabbits and even guinea pigs.  Some pets may really enjoy the change of scenery, and outdoor trips can be a fun form of enrichment.  Before you plan an outdoor visit for your exotic pet, be sure to plan carefully:
1. Can I keep my pet safe?  Is there any risk of predators (neighbor’s dogs/cats, and wildlife, including hawks and owls from overhead)? Is any grass or natural forage the pet may access free of pesticides and other chemicals?
. 2. Can I prevent an accidental escape?  Is the enclosure absolutely escape proof, and sturdy enough in case children or other pets jostle it, or when the wind blows?
. 3. Is the temperature appropriate for my pet?  Some pets like guinea pigs and chinchillas are naturally less heat tolerate. Any pet that is not acclimated to higher temperatures may not do well.
. 4. Is there access to shade and fresh water at all times?
. 5. Will my pet enjoy being outdoors, or will it be too stressful?
To acclimate a pet to the outdoors, take brief trips outdoors, no more than 10-15 minutes at a time, watching for signs of anxiety of stress. If your pet seems stressed, go back indoors.
Avoid areas frequented by outdoor pets and wildlife to reduce risk of exposure to fleas and ticks.
Trips outdoor can be very beneficial for some exotic pets, especially for reptiles who thrive on UV light exposure, and rabbits who often really enjoy natural browse. The House Rabbit Society has information on keeping rabbits safe both indoors and outdoors here.
Questions about taking your exotic pet outdoors? Email us a question, or give us a call.

The Top 3 Most Common Diseases Seen on Emergency in Pet Birds


For our second week, we will discuss the pet birds, from finches to larger parrots. There is some evidence parrots were kept as pets over a thousand years ago.  “Cookie”, the world’s oldest parrot (a Major Mitchell’s cockatoo) died at the Brookfield Zoo in 2016 at the age of 83.

The most common reasons for emergency visits are:
1.     Any chronic, long-term illness that appears to be a sudden onset.   While this is not a specific disease, it happens again and again, as birds are masters of hiding signs of illness. Most owners are absolutely convinced their parrot “was fine yesterday”.    The best way to detect illness early is to become a keen observer; buy a gram scale and record your bird’s weight, track food consumption and the amount of droppings produced. Call if anything changes, or at the slightest sign that something is off. Annual wellness check visits are also extremely important.
2.     Trauma, especially from other pets like dogs and cats. The bacteria from the claws and teeth of cats can be especially dangerous, and even a  very small puncture can mean a severe infection and possibly death in just a few days. Predators and parrots should never be unsupervised. Many owners tell us they did not expect the attack the pets had appeared to get along prior.

3.     A broken blood feather, or tip of the beak.  All ingrowing new feathers have a blood supply which is lost when the feather grows out and matures. When feathers break at this stage, they can bleed, sometimes severely. When birds fall (especially those that are overweight or have a wing clip that is too severe), they can break off the tip of the beak.  This may also bleed severely. Since birds will lick the tip of the beak, it may appear the blood is coming from the mouth. Sometimes direct pressure can control the bleeding, but be ready to call the clinic if it does not.

Want to share in some Ferret Fun next weekend?

 Come join us at the Annual Ferret 500 Saturday May 5th from 9:30 to 5:30 at the Marion County Fairgrounds!
Here is what the organizers say about the event:  "A ferret show is a lot of fun for participants and observers alike.  You can learn about interesting ferret coat colors, watch the ferret costume contest, find out the difference between jills and hobs, talk with ferret  enthusiasts  from around the United States, shop for fabulous ferret items and other supplies from the vendors."
Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic's own Dr. Taylor Lewis will present up to date information on ferret health issues and how to keep your ferret healthy and happy for as long as possible.  Come with your questions for the veterinarian.
And...if you want to try your hand at actually showing your ferret (including the ferret costume contest), go here.
Be aware all ferrets must have a health check and be up to date on vaccines, and a negative test for ADV. 
Admission/Donation is $5.00 for adults $2.00 for children 7 to 15 yrs. Under 7 free with paid adult.
Proceeds from the raffles help support the Five Points Ferret Refuge
For complete details, go here!

Time for a New Series: the Top 3 Most Common Diseases Seen on Emergency in YOUR favorite Exotic Pet!

We start the series with.....the Rabbit!   The rabbit is the most common exotic mammal in the United States, and most of the world. We know a lot about rabbit diseases, because the rabbit has been studied for so many years, and exotic veterinarians see so many on a daily basis.
If you are a rabbit owner, or just love rabbits, try to guess the top three before you read.

1. Rabbit Gastrointestinal Syndrome (RGIS):

While not an actual diagnosis, RGIS described a problem with gastrointestinal (GI) motility, or movement that can be caused by actual problems with the GI tract, or other diseases that affect the GI tract.  Symptoms are eating less or none at all, decreased stool production, and sometimes lethargy or even an enlarged abdomen.
Causes: everything from stress to an actual GI obstruction or blockage
Prognosis:  Good if the rabbit is seen early and the problem identified and corrected
Treatment: Varies depending on the cause, and always involves supportive care such as fluids, pain medication and support feeding.
If your rabbit seems "off" and just isn't eating normally, pay close attention and call the veterinarian right away for advice.
Bonus: see the excellent article and diagram on RGIS decision making here - My rabbit won't eat! When is this an emergency?

2. Dental Disease

Dental disease can be mild to severe, and if not treated always gets worse. Rabbit teeth grow continually, and any condition that interferes with perfect tooth alignment results in dental disease, which is painful, and interferes with the ability to eat.
Causes: currently under debate; theories include injuries, dietary causes and genetics
Prognosis: Good to excellent when managed properly.
Treatment: Periodic adjustments of tooth length and shape, and treatment of any secondary problems, such as infection and discomfort.
Dental disease can be a "stealthy" disease, and many times signs are vague and don't appear related to teeth. Call right away if your rabbit seems "off".

3. Upper Respiratory Disease 

This has a number of other names, including rhinitis, and snuffles.  This can also be mild to severe. Severe cases may feature abscesses in the nasal cavity, and destruction of the bones in the nasal cavity.
Causes: This is usually causes by a bacteria, sometimes present since birth. Occasional there are other causes.
Prognosis: good for early cases that don't involve abscesses or bony involvement. More severe cases may require surgery of the nasal cavity.
Treatement: for bacterial rhinitis, antibiotics are used (by mouth and sometimes by nebulization (inhalation of antibiotics).  Again, severe case may require surgery to remove the abscesses and diseased bone.
Don't ignore an increase in sneezing, or a runny nose. This condition is better treated early!

Is your new fuzzy baby ferret fully protected from distemper and rabies?


What can be more fun that a silly baby ferret?  For those of us with Ferret Fever, don’t forget your new purchase from the pet store is probably not fully vaccinated.  Most pet store ferrets come from one or more commercial breeders who usually give baby ferrets the first of the required series of vaccines for distemper.  Unless the pet store takes them to the vet for vaccines, the vaccine series is not complete. Also, only veterinarians can administer rabies vaccine, which is required by Indiana law for dogs cats and ferrets.    If the pet store says the vaccines are all up to date, ask for proof of vaccination. And if you are not sure, give us a call and we will help you find out if your new baby is really protected. Don’t forget the Ferret 500 is coming up May 5th!  For more information go here:

The Sad Reality of an “Easter “Bunny


Story by Dawn Sailer

Easter is a very challenging time of the year for companion rabbit lovers and animal welfare advocates (  Each year the market is flooded with cute, fuzzy baby “Easter” bunnies.  And each year when the rabbits hit sexual maturity approximately 2-3 months later, disillusioned rabbit owners surrender their rabbits to animal shelters.  Rabbits are the third most commonly surrendered animal to US shelters (  Each year, rescue groups ( work tirelessly to save “the Easter Dump” rabbits. 

If you see a cute baby “Easter” bunny, please consult the “Make Mine Chocolate” website ( to see if a rabbit is the right pet for you.  If a rabbit is a good fit for your family, please obtain a rabbit from a shelter or rescue organization (same url as above).

A Day in the Life of a Surgery Registered Veterinary Technician


Story by Brie Worrell

Many people do not know what an RVT or Registered Veterinary Technician is and what they do on a daily basis. An RVT is comparable to a nurse in human medicine. The daily tasks of an RVT include: taking histories on patients that come in for exams, setting up patients in the hospital to make sure they are comfortable, drawing blood from patients, medicating/performing treatments on patients, taking radiographs, filling medications, setting the patient up for surgery, monitoring them during surgery, and recovering the patient after surgery. At our clinic, there are several different positions our RVTs can fill each day including Surgery, Recovery, and Appointment Tech roles. Today, we are going to highlight the last couple of tasks that a Surgery Tech performs almost on a daily basis.

 A surgery tech starts the day by making sure that all patients who have a procedure scheduled that day are set up in their holding cages and are comfortable. They then discuss the schedule of the day with the surgeon and decide what order the patients go in. After the first patient is selected, the tech sets up the surgery table with all of the supplies needed for the procedure from the drape to keep the table clean to the sterile surgery instruments for the procedure. They receive the sedation drugs from the recovery tech and sedate the patient. Once the patient is sedate, the tech preps the patient for surgery by taking radiographs if needed, drawing blood for blood work, placing a catheter, intubating the patient (placing an endotracheal tube down the patient’s airway so that the tech can breathe for the patient during the procedure), shaving and cleaning the surgery site, administering a pain block around the surgery site, and placing monitoring equipment on the patient. The monitoring equipment helps the tech monitor the patient’s heart rate, breathing rate, blood oxygenation, CO2 levels, temperature, and blood pressure.

Once all of this is complete and the tech is happy with the patient’s status, the surgeon enters the surgery suite and performs the procedure. During the procedure the tech is constantly keeping track of all of the patient’s vitals and making adjustments as needed. The tech is running the anesthetic gas administered to the patient the entire time and makes adjustments to levels whenever needed making sure the patient is at a quality level of anesthesia. They also open any sterile instruments the surgeon requires throughout the procedure.

 Once the procedure is finished, the tech wakes the patient up by stopping the anesthetic gas and administering oxygen to help the patient wake up smoothly. Once the patient is starting to wake up, they extubate (remove the endotracheal tube from the patient’s airway) to allow the patient to fully breathe on their own. They make sure the patient is clean and dry from the procedure and able to fully function on their own before leaving the surgical suite. They take the patient back to the hospital and hand them off to the recovery tech who wakes them up the rest of the way and monitors the patient till they go home. The surgical tech then has to clean/sterilize the surgical instruments and surgical suite before repeating the process for the rest of the procedures throughout the day.

At the end of the day, when patients go home, the surgical technician takes the patient to the client and lets the client know how the procedure went, what to expect as the patient recovers at home, and demonstrates how to medicate the patient if medications are sent home. They then deep clean the surgical suite from top to bottom and re-sterilizes all of the remaining surgical instruments used throughout the day.

It is a full day for a surgical technician but one that is fulfilling! Seeing the patients go home at the end of the day with a medical problem resolved is a great feeling.

We look forward to sharing more about what our hospital staff does each day for the care and health of our patients!


The Little Lizard Who Would Not Stay Put


This little Chinese Water Dragon went for a car ride to come see us recently. Since it’s safest for him and all other pets to travel in secure carriers and we require all pets to be contained in the waiting room, he came to the clinic in the best carrier his owners had on hand. To make him comfortable, his owners put in a nice fleece blanket and something to hide in. However, when he arrived at the clinic and his carrier was opened, he was missing! We quickly called his owners. They carefully checked their car and found him hiding out. Luckily, there was no harm done and he did well for his visit. Next time, we’re sure he will come in a carrier with much smaller bars! Are you unsure about what kind of carrier your exotic pet needs? We have seen just about EVERYTHING, so we can always let you know what works best! Give us a call and we would be happy to give you some recommendations!

Succulent Orphanage

Story By Brie Worrell
This winter, the Avian and Exotic Inn is home to not only a variety of exotic pets but succulents as well. It started with the Boarding Supervisor bringing her little family of succulents to the boarding facility to save them from her plant-eating cat. A few days later, a tech asked if she could bring her succulent to live at the boarding facility over-winter. With that, the succulent orphanage began. Soon after, more succulents appeared at the doorstep of the Avian and Exotic Inn. Most needed some TLC. Some (Theodore) had bite wounds, others(Sebastian) with water or sun burns, and others (Sawyer) with over-watering. The Boarding Assistants care for the succulent orphans, giving them proper husbandry including borrowing a UVB bulb from the reptile room to provide heat and UVB to help them heal and grow. Many of the succulents have come from near death and are now thriving in our succulent haven. In spring, some of them will return to their original homes but others will find their forever home at the Avian and Exotic Inn.

How much space do pet chickens really need?


The answer to this question depends on who you ask!  The official answer from the United Egg Producers Animal Husbandry Guidelines for US Egg Laying Flocks, 2017 edition states 67-86 square inches of usable space per bird.  These figures were established after research to determine what amount of space is large enough to reduce obvious stress behaviors, but small enough to keep egg production costs reasonable for consumers.Since pet poultry owners usually choose to emphasize cozy surroundings and environmental enrichment over costs associated with egg production, we recommend much more space per bird.  Many hobby sites recommend 3 ft/bird in the enclosure, and minimum 10 ft/bird in the outdoor run.  This sounds like a reasonable option.  Here are a few more considerations:

  1. The cute ready-made coops you see online look great with a few chicks in them. However, once the chicks are full grown, they are usually way too small.  Be sure the space reflects the size of the ADULT birds, and not the chicks.
  2. Even the most peaceful hens will establish a pecking order (this is actually where that expression is from!).  Lower ranking hens need to be able to avoid the boss hens, and need enough space to be able to do just that.
  3. The ideal coop is well ventilated and easy to clean.  If it’s tough to get in there and remove the mess, most people avoid doing it.  We recommend emphasizing ability to clean over style and beauty of the coop.
  4. Most infectious diseases we see in pet poultry happen after owners buy birds from multiple sources, pick up birds at auctions, or fail to buy vaccinated birds.  For the least chance of having an infectious disease in your flock, buy all birds from a “closed” hatchery, pay a little to have them vaccinated, and resist the temptation to add birds from any other sources.

The Indiana State Board of Health has great resources for both poultry producers and pet poultry enthusists.  Go here: <%22> We especially like the links on biosecurity, and a free program where you can have your flock’s eggs tested for diseases such as Salmonella.

Questions on pet poultry?  Call us!

Are you and your pets ready for a fire emergency?


Fire preparedness is important for EVERYONE, but have you thought about a special plan for your exotic pets? We had a conversation with Nina Powell, Deputy Fire Marshall for the Pike Township Fire Department, and asked her advice. Specifically, we asked:

  1. Are those little window stickers that alert fire fighters to the presence of pets REALLY helpful? Will fire fighters look at them and try to find the pets?
  2. What if the pet is something unfamiliar and a little unusual, for example, a SNAKE? Will fire fighters rescue pets like that?

Nina assured us that the stickers are useful, and as long as the humans residents are safe, and fire fighters aren’t putting themselves and others in danger, they will make an effort to get pets safely out. She recommends using large stickers, and placing them prominently on both the front and rear doors right where they will be clearly visible. She laughed at our question about rescuing snakes-but quickly replied that all pets are important and special.

However, there are some things exotic pet owners can do that will really help fire fighters in these situations. We think her advice is excellent:

  1. Have carriers for each pet ready and easily visible, for example tucked under the cage or right next to it.
  2. Place a laminated instruction sheet on each carrier identifying and describing the pet, and any tips someone unfamiliar with that species would find useful. We made a couple of examples here:






















So where do you get window/door stickers specifically for exotic pets? You can have them custom printed, or we’ve made a large stack of them; pick yours up any time during clinic hours.

Stickers are $2.00 and proceeds go towards the Veterinary Care Charitable Fund:

Nina also reminds us to check smoke detectors regularly and have an escape plan that all families know and have practiced! See this fun link where kids can help in the planning process:



Rescue Spotlight: Gabriel Foundation


Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic loves exotic animal rescues. We work closely with Indiana House Rabbit Society (IHRS) and Exotic Animal Pet Rescue and Sanctuary (EARPS) Today we would like to tell you about a rescue we love a little further from home, the Gabriel Foundation in Colorado. Dr. Lennox has had the opportunity to visit and volunteer on several occasions, and the facility and staff, and their dedication to parrot welfare is exceptional. The quality of enrichment and access to beautiful spacious outdoor aviaries are just a few of the things we like about the Gabriel Foundation.

Like all rescues, the Gabriel Foundation struggles with so many birds and limited resources. The foundation is in the midst of transferring 44 birds from another rescue in Pennsylvania to their home in Colorado. The Lafeber Company has agreed to match donations, up to $5000.00 for the next few weeks. Join us in helping the newcomers settle into their new home.

Memories of 2017


We bid a fond farewell to 2017, which brought about a lot of great changes for our clinic, some wonderful stories, and some loss.  We welcomed two new residents, and saw two AEAC doctors become board certified exotic specialists!  We had our Open House for the Avian and Exotic Inn, and much more. Here are some of our staff’s fondest memories of the year:

“Buddy” the chinchilla who chewed on an electrical cord and suffered some disfiguring burns and was hospitalized for treatment.  We warned her owner about the severity of the wounds, but when we presented her back to her owner, he immediately told her she looked beautiful!

“Peanut” the guinea pig who was diagnosed with a rare genetic bone disease that is considered untreatable…..actually improve and do very well with a simple miraculous cure-a UV light!

Our elderly cockatiel friend “Sammy” who after a very difficult surgery kept calling to Brie from the incubator, and then spent an hour and a half with her singing and preening and eating treats!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic!


We will be closed:

  • Sunday, Christmas Eve
  • Monday, Christmas Day
  • Tuesday, December 26th

We will reopen on Wednesday, December 27th at 8 AM.

We will be closed Monday, New Year’s Day, and reopen Tuesday, January 2nd, at 8 AM.

If you wish, you can leave us a message for a call back next business day.  If you have an emergency with your pet that cannot wait until the clinic reopens, call the general clinic number for instructions on how to reach the doctor on call.

We hope Santa is good and brings wonderful things to you and your pets!  And best wishes for a wonderful 2018!